The Salukis’ new volunteer coach wasn’t on the radar when SIU started the search to replace its former volunteer coach, Brian Neal, in June. The position went unfilled until a phone call came out of the blue in November to head coach Ken Henderson’s office.
“It happened to be exactly what we were looking for,” Henderson said.” (The coaches) would sit around talking many times as a staff, saying there’s got to be somebody out there who’s playing pro ball, a former catcher who would do a great job and who wants to get into coaching. Then we’d ask how do you find them; we know they’re out there. Then he calls out of the blue.”
Joe Burke made the call, and, as of Tuesday, became the newest coach for Henderson’s staff. Henderson said Burke’s expertise as a catcher made him an appealing choice.
“He has a great knowledge of the game. He has a passion for it, and he meshes really well with our current staff and players,” Henderson said.
Burke wasn’t available when the coaching search began because he still earned a paycheck as a catcher for the Somerset Patriots in the independent Atlantic League. He said his career would have lasted longer if not for a PCL tear as a result of a collision at home plate in a late-season game in 2011.
“Every player that gets drafted, it’s their goal to play in the major leagues,” Burke said. “I was fortunate enough to play seven years, and that was my goal growing up, and it just didn’t happen.”
As a player for St. John’s University, Burke was the head instructor for baseball camps run by head coach Ed Blankmeyer. He said that was before he considered a career as a coach.
Burke said other NCAA baseball teams offered him paid coaching positions towards the end of his playing career, but he wanted to live out his dream of playing for a Major League Baseball team.
“The timing had to be right and the place had to be right for me to stop playing, so it was just a perfect fit,” he said.
Burke said he realized his playing days were over and heard about the Salukis’ coaching void from one of his good friends in the minors. Once he came to Carbondale and interviewed with Henderson, he said he knew he wanted to coach here.
Burke said the fit just felt right to him.
“The coaching staff seemed like my kind of baseball guys,” he said.
Henderson said he found other coaches who could have filled the need for a volunteer assistant, but didn’t hire anyone because he needed someone with a background as a catcher.
“That was priority number one. We opened the position up, and it’s tough finding a guy who fills that role,” Henderson said. “Even if we had to go all year without filling it, I didn’t want the wrong person and we didn’t want somebody who didn’t have the background we needed.”
Senior catcher Brian Bajer said he was aware of the possibility of not having a coach help them this season, but wasn’t worried about it.
“Either way, we were going to get ourselves ready to go,” he said.